DENVER (AP) — The squeak of sneakers on the court sounds the same. But these are a far cry from your classic Chuck Taylors or vintage Air Jordans. Or any version of high tops at all.
Constructed to hit slightly above the ankle, the iconic shoe has fallen quite out of favor on the lanes of basketball.
Take a look at the shoes players are lacing up for March Madness, and many are sporting a version of a low-top sneaker (with the occasional mid-cut toss).
It’s a way to put your fastest, most comfortable foot forward, especially since studies are inconclusive as to whether high tops are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing — preventing sprained ankles.
As Colorado guard Kindyll Wetta points out, “Our ankles are going to be taped anyway, so I don’t feel like I need the extra high-top support.”
There’s also fashion to consider and “low tops,” said TCU guard Damion Baugh, “just look better.”
High tops have been a familiar sight since the early days of Converse’s Chuck Taylors a century ago. According to legend, Taylor went to the company’s sales office and looked for shoes that didn’t hurt his feet. The result was an all-star sneaker that would eventually bear his name—with a high canvas collar—and induct Charles H. “Chuck” Taylor into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He helped spark an industry – Converse at one point had an estimated 80% market share.
There have been many styles and models of high tops over the decades – from Nike’s Air Force 1 to the Reebok Pump to the iconic versions of Air Jordans. The thinking behind it was simple – protect the ankle from rolling off, almost like a hiking boot.
But injury data for low tops versus high tops has proven inconclusive.
dr Howard Osterman, team podiatrist for the Washington Wizards and Mystics, recently gave a talk on the history of basketball shoes. He talked about various sneakers, including Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s signature line with Puma (a low-top) and George “Iceman” Gervin’s Nike “Blazer” shoe (a high-top) through the present day.
Osterman’s best advice after his deep dive into shoes?
“Find a comfortable shoe,” he said. “The boots don’t necessarily make you a better player, but they can certainly cause irritation and other problems.”
Matt Powell, a footwear industry analyst who tracks the latest trends through his consulting firm, believes the rise in popularity of low-tops reflects the rising demand for comfortable running shoes.
“A lot of brands have tried to make their basketball shoes look more like running shoes so they’re more on-trend with what’s selling,” Powell said. “The player is looking for a shoe that is as light as possible and still protects their feet. So that points you to the low peak.”
The late Kobe Bryant gets a lot of support for the popularity of low-tops. He once helped launch a lower profile shoe.
Today, NBA stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, and LeBron James have shoe lines with low-top versions.
On the women’s side, Nike recently announced that Oregon WNBA standout and record holder Sabrina Ionescu has a new line of low-cut shoes called the “Sabrina 1.”
“The best shoes are low shoes,” said TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. “All the comfortable shoes.”
One of the first things Gonzaga forward Anton Watson does when stepping onto the pitch is to gauge his competition.
At least her shoes.
And if you happen to be wearing a nice pair, he’ll let you know.
“I have to say something like, ‘Where did you get that? I need a pair of these,'” said Watson, whose team beat UCLA to advance to the Elite Eight.
He’s tried high tops in the past but they felt too cumbersome.
Tennessee guard Jordan Walker grew up wearing high tops but wore a lower version in college.
“My parents wouldn’t let me wear low tops — it’s not ankle support and all that,” Walker said. “I had to wear ankle braces with the high tops. So I’m going to college, and I need to express my freedom a little bit and go to the low-tops.
Tennessee coach Kellie Harper overheard the shoe question and chimed in.
“High tops,” said Harper, who helped the Lady Vols win three straight national titles as a player. “I’m a high top girl.”
Harper added that they no longer make high tops like they did in the 1990s. She recently played in a scrimmage with her team and donned some high tops. Harper noted that they only turned up three quarters compared to what she had previously acted in.
“They made fun of my shoes because they were way above the ankle,” Harper said.
Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner wears a mid-cut shoe — or so he thinks.
“I don’t know what the difference is between three quarters and traditional. To be honest, all I know is that mine are a lot higher than most of my teammates,” said Kalkbrenner. “I couldn’t even tell you the name of the shoe.”
As for those old-school high-tops, Baylor forward Jalen Bridges has only one thought.
“I don’t know how people used to play in it,” Bridges burst out. “This new generation of Hoopers, we just like low cuts.”
AP Sports writers Teresa M. Walker and Arnie Stapleton and AP College Sports writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.
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